On Wed, May 15, 2019 at 6:26 AM Yaroslav Blanter <ymb...@gmail.com> wrote:

> This is of course fine, and everybody is free to participate or not to
participate on this mailing list, but, generally speaking, does WMF have
any channels to listen to the volunteers working on the project?

I am a product manager at the Wikimedia Foundation. What this means, in the
broadest of terms, is that I need to know what people want/need in order to
do my job “correctly,” for some definition of “correct.” Of course, what
constitutes a “correct” decision on my part is something not everyone will
agree on and that’s fine. But I need to gather information as part of this
work.

The problem is that there is no “one” place to go. To give you an idea of
the magnitude of the problem, there are over 900 wikis.  Hundreds of those
wikis comprise Wikipedia, a project with a cumulative total of 50,000,000
articles. Each one of those articles either has a talk page or could
theoretically get one as soon as someone makes the first post. So, just
starting with Wikipedia articles, we have over 50,000,000 potential or
existing discussion venues, with very little coordination or
cross-organization between these venues, and this doesn’t even include
individual user talk pages or really, really specific talk pages like
“Wikipedia talk:Administrators’ noticeboard/Incidents” which is... very
precisely, a venue to discuss the administration of that specific
noticeboard (but not to, itself, host noticeboard-like posts).[0]

It is very convenient and easy to create a talk page because talk pages are
a very central paradigm to the MediaWiki software (going back to 2002?
2003?) and so they are built into the overall website experience in a way
that things that were tacked on way later, simply are not. But it is a poor
interface that doesn’t scale across more than several people or a few
concurrent conversations. But if Wikipedia’s fundamental sidebar chat
system fails to support more than occasional chatter, how exactly is any of
this supposed to work?

There are two ways to go from here: (a) fix the original problem or (b)
develop workarounds. If you were around back in 2013 or so you may recall a
project called “Flow” that is now called “Structured Discussions.” I can’t
speak officially to any of it because it was before my time and many of the
staff involved no longer work here. And I am actually very hesitant to
bring it up at all, much less by name, because of the taboo that developed
around it. A retrospective on this project is out-of-scope for this post,
but if you need a short and convenient answer: it didn’t work, and it
generally made it impossible for the Wikimedia Foundation to even broach
the subject for the following several years. (There is starting to be work
on this again, and this time, it seems to be going at a more deliberate
pace, but I will defer to the staff working on this.)

Let’s talk about workarounds. We have workarounds that make the talk pages
themselves more useful (talk page archiving comes to mind[1]), and we also
have workarounds that consist of outsourcing the issue entirely, whether it
be solutions we host ourselves (mailing lists, Discourse) or proprietary
platforms that happen to be convenient for large segments of our
communities. There are different advantages and disadvantages to each
solution, which has only resulted in the proliferation of solutions.

Let’s back up. On the wikis themselves there are millions of discussion
venues; there are different software interventions that work or don’t work,
depending on the situation; and we are now in a position where we have so
many places to hold conversations it becomes an extraordinary use of time
(and several people’s full time jobs) to try to understand the
extraordinarily complex social interactions that take place in the hundreds
of languages we speak.

Having introduced all that context, the short answer to your question is
there are some channels we are better at paying attention to than others,
but we don’t know what we don’t know. And this is frustrating for everyone
involved. It makes projects take longer, it makes it harder to onboard
staff, and I can imagine it’s *even more* frustrating for the many users of
our many wikis who have to deal with the software being broken and not
really knowing what to do. I think we manage,  but I think we deserve
better than just “managing” it.


My best regards,
James Hare



[0] This brings up another topic that not all discussions that take place
on Wikipedia happen on discussion pages. Also, there are over 50,000,000
Wikidata items, and almost none of them have talk pages, but theoretically *all
of them* can.

[1] I remember when Werdna wrote the first talk page archiving bot in 2006.
I thought it was cool that someone did that, but looking back on it, I
wonder why I was happy with that as a solution – it seems really convoluted
in retrospect.



> > positive tone needs to be made and a much more conciliatory stance taken.
> > Otherwise we all might as well pack our bags.
> >
> >
> > On Wed, May 15, 2019 at 2:17 AM Asaf Bartov <asaf.bar...@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >
> > > Speaking as a (very) longtime member of this mailing list, and one who
> is
> > > carefully observing it for a few years now as a volunteer list
> > > co-administrator:
> > >
> > > On Wed, May 15, 2019 at 3:56 AM Joseph Seddon <jsed...@wikimedia.org>
> > > wrote:
> > >
> > > > I, like many others, wish to see this list become a crucible of good
> > > > suggestions, healthy and critical debate about ideas and as a sound
> > > > mechanism for oversight and account . A huge amount of staff time and
> > > > movement resources is taken up by the consumption of its content. And
> > yet
> > > > it remains the greatest shame that much of the best most worthwhile
> > > > constructive discussions have moved to platforms like Facebook
> because
> > > this
> > > > list is viewed as hosting such an unhealthy atmosphere when emails
> are
> > > > written with such overt passive aggression.
> > > >
> > > > I call it out because if we want people to participate on this list,
> > the
> > > > unhealthy way in which this list gets treated by some of its most
> > active
> > > > participants needs to be dealt with. Otherwise valid points will not
> > get
> > > > acknowledged or answered.
> > > >
> > >
> > > I am not sure the causality here runs in the direction you describe.
> > It's
> > > true that this list had some aggressive, even vulgar participants in
> the
> > > past, and that some senior staff members, as well as board members,
> have
> > > left the list in protest.  Personally, I think that was a mistake on
> > their
> > > part: to improve the list atmosphere, you model good behavior yourself,
> > and
> > > you call upon the rest of the list -- the "silent majority" -- to call
> > out
> > > bad behavior and enforce some participation standards (as, indeed, I
> and
> > my
> > > co-moderators have been doing since we took over).
> > >
> > > By senior people's departing this list, and no longer requiring staff
> to
> > be
> > > on this list, a strong signal was sent that this is not a venue crucial
> > to
> > > listen to, and that, coupled with the decreasing frequency of WMF
> > responses
> > > to legitimate volunteer inquiries and suggestions, had a *powerful*
> > > chilling effect on the willingness of most volunteers to engage here.
> > > Especially when, as you say, they were able to get better engagement on
> > > Facebook and other channels, despite the serious shortcomings of
> > > accountability on those channels (immutable archiving, searchability,
> > > access to anonymous volunteers, etc.)
> > >
> > > Yes, this list has also seen some pseudonymous critics whose questions
> > may
> > > have been inconvenient or troublesome to address.  Yet I think the
> > > accountable thing to do would have been to respond, however briefly, to
> > > prevent the sealioning and sanctimonious posts that filled the list --
> > and,
> > > I am sure, greatly annoyed and demotivated many subscribers.  Even a
> > > response stating WMF chooses not to respond to a certain question, or
> not
> > > to dig up certain data, would have been better than the stony silence
> > that
> > > has become the all-too-common stance for WMF on this list.
> > >
> > > As you know, I also work for WMF (though I am writing this in my
> > volunteer
> > > capacity, and out of my care for the well-being of this list).  While I
> > > have never shied away from responding on this list, I have on occasion
> > been
> > > scolded (internally) for attempting to answer volunteer queries to the
> > best
> > > of my knowledge, for "outstepping my remit" or interfering in someone
> > > else's remit.  I have taken this to heart, and accordingly no longer
> try
> > to
> > > respond to queries such as Fae's (which in this case I find a perfectly
> > > reasonable question, meriting an answer).  Several past attempts by me
> to
> > > ping appropriate senior staff on questions on this list (or on talk
> > pages)
> > > have also met with rebuke, so I have ceased those as well.
> > >
> > > For these reasons I do not accept this wholesale blaming of this list's
> > > subscribers on the difficulty having meaningful conversations here:
> > >
> > > But if we want to see staff members more actively
> > > > participating here then those long standing individuals need to
> really
> > > > thing about the tone in which they engage here, particularly those
> who
> > do
> > > > so most often. If that does not change, this list will continue to
> > > languish
> > > > and those few staff members who continue to engage here will slowly
> > > > disappear. This now increasingly perennial topic keeps coming up and
> my
> > > > fear is that it will on go away through the increasing abandonment
> this
> > > > list faces.
> > > >
> > >
> > > It is WMF that is not behaving collaboratively here.  And it is within
> > > WMF's power to change it.  C-levels, the ED, and other managers at WMF
> > > could all decide to participate more actively in this list; to respond
> to
> > > questions or delegate the answering to their subordinates, who are
> > awaiting
> > > their cue; and indeed, they could themselves make more use of this list
> > as
> > > a sounding board, a consultation room, and a reserve of experience and
> > > diverse context.  They can be the change they (and you, and me) would
> > like
> > > to see.
> > >
> > > Perhaps this e-mail could convince some of them.  And if not my words,
> > then
> > > perhaps those of some of the other list subscribers.
> > >
> > >     A.
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-- 
-- 
*James Hare* (he/him)
Associate Product Manager
Wikimedia Foundation <https://wikimediafoundation.org/>
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